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5th September, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 8

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Politics

Situation in Batticaloa

Something to smile about

Pictured left to right: Karuna, Kaushalyan, Ramesh, Nilaveni before the Karuna split and SLMM BatticaloaHead Susanne Ringgaard-Pedersen

By Amantha Perera 

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has had a tough time since of late. The government has been on the war path against the monitors made up of Nordic countries with none other than Acting Defence Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake reminding them that they should refrain from limiting themselves to discussions and be more proactive.

The LTTE has been no better, if not worse, on the subject of monitor bashing. Political Wing Leader S. P. Tamilselvan echoed Wickremanayake when he wrote to the SLMM requesting them to be more proactive in investigating the killings of political wing cadres in government controlled areas.

To top it all off, the Tigers appeared to pay scant regard to the observations and recommendations of the SLMM. The monitors were feeling the effects of what political commentators like Dayan Jayathilake have termed 'the SLMM's wimp factor' head on.

Meeting scheduled

The pressure was nowhere more acute than in Batticaloa. After the Karuna rebellion, the subsequent Wanni crackdown and the killings following, Batticaloa became the new killing fields in Sri Lanka. In early July, when The Sunday Leader spoke to the SLMM Batticaloa Head, Susanne Ringgaard-Pedersen, she was very candid about the fact that the LTTE's efforts to regain control of the east were undermining the peace and stability of the district. Last week however, for the first time in a long time Pedersen and co., had something to cheer about. Weeks of prodding and nudging the LTTE to recommence meetings with the army finally reached fruition last week, when the LTTE agreed to attend a meeting with army personnel, on Tuesday, September 7 at Vavunathivu. Eastern Political Wing Head Kaushalyan will lead the Tiger delegation to the meeting, the first in two months since former Batticaloa political head  Ramalingam Padmaseelan alias Lt. Col. Senathiraja died from gunshot injuries sustained earlier on July 13.

More forceful

It was a besieged SLMM that met in Colombo two weeks ago for a monthly stock taking effort. Head of Mission, Retired Maj. Gen. Trond Furuhovde had just finished back to back meetings with the government and the LTTE before he met the other monitors. While the government had raised the issue of factional rivalry and the suspected new camps on the southern side of the Trincomalee bay, the Tigers raised their own set of grievances during the meetings, led by the murders of their political operatives in the east. Days before the meeting, Vasu Bawa and Yoga, two high ranking LTTE political wing cadres in Batticaloa died during an attack in between Mankerni and Kayankerni just inside government controlled areas, north of Batticaloa town. The murders saw Tamilselvan writing to the monitors to lay the blame squarely on the army.

It was at the Colombo meeting that Furuhovde and the other district heads decided that they needed to be more forceful. Furuhovde had observed that he felt he needed to be more in the field. Hence the decision to visit troubled Batticaloa. It was in this backdrop that he visited Batticaloa on August 31 and met with both the LTTE and the army separately.

His first meeting was with the army. Two Brigade Commanders, Brigadier Daya Ranatunge (223 Brigade) and Brigadier Welagama (552 Brigade) represented the army at the meeting. They had raised the issue of the recent spate of killings of LTTE rivals and EPDP members in government controlled areas. On August 30, EPDP member Dayawalan Balasingham was abducted in Chenkaladi.

The two top officers also made representations on the attempted crossing into government controlled areas by 25 armed LTTE cadres on Sunday. The incident took place in Valachchenai early in the morning around 5.30 a.m. and the army had to rush in additional units to prevent the crossover. The Tigers had been quite boisterous during the confrontation.

Shedding light

It is no secret that the LTTE uses the area around Vakeneri to pump cadres into the east. Army detachments stationed in the area say that to plug the hole they would probably need a full battalion.

Army sources said that the SLMM Head had emphasised that his trip was aimed at bringing the eastern situation under control and that they would make attempts to prevent the killings.

"The army appeared a bit frustrated, at what, it was not quite clear," sources closely linked with the talks told The Sunday Leader. The army has drawn a blank when explaining why and how other armed groups operate in the east outside the army's purview.

The run up to the meeting was as usual filled with a list of complaints. The army has accused the LTTE of building a new bunker just outside government controlled areas in Vavunathivu. "We can see that from the GA's office," Army sources said. However, the SLMM office in Batticaloa had not received any complaints about the bunker by the time the meeting was concluded around 11 a.m. The army and the LTTE are also ironically to have their icebreaker meeting on Tuesday at Vavunathivu.

LTTE has also been holding recruitment drives all over the east and at one point had brought in armed cadres to Puthur on August 29 with the aim of abducting children, according to the army. However, the attempt had failed. The SLMM had no information on the incident. Army sources say that most of the cadres on recruitment drives are from the Wanni and have been inducted to the east recently.

Since the Karuna defection, the LTTE has been focusing its energies on replenishing the cadre strength. However, SLMM sources said that they had not seen any rise or fall in the intensity of the recruitment efforts.

It was the next meeting that Furuhovde had with the LTTE that broke the gloom over Batticaloa. He and Pedersen met with the three top LTTE rankers in the east, military commander Ramesh, political head Kaushalyan and Commander Ramnan.

No security

The LTTE's main grouse was the lack of security for the political wing cadres operating in government controlled areas. Ramesh said that it was the biggest of their worries. The latest killings of Bawa and Yoga were big blows to the Tigers, Ramesh admitted.

The SLMM for their part was adamant that killings needed to stop. The LTTE was told that the population in the east had been living under apprehension and fear since the intra-LTTE rivalry spilled over to the streets of Batticaloa and bodies kept piling up.

Ramnan's presence at the meeting was a bonus to the SLMM. The military commander has been on the high road to authority since the Karuna split. A former intelligence wing cadre, he operates from the 49 base in Kokkadicholai and till last week's meeting had held off meeting with the monitors. At one point SLMM monitors went all the way up to the base, but failed to meet the elusive Ramnan.

SLMM had been anxious to meet Ramnan, because his name has been popping up on complaints of abductions and forcible recruitment. Before the meeting got underway Kaushalyan walked up to the monitors and said "I have someone you have been waiting to meet," and pointed at Ramnan. After the meeting concluded Ramnan answered with only a smile when queried whether the monitors could meet him again. He did not take part in the discussions with the SLMM.

Icebreaker

Given the violence in the recent past and the bad blood between the army and the LTTE, last week's meetings were a big break. "The situation now is that at least both sides will talk to each other," sources with access to the discussions revealed.

However, it was not an one-off effort on the part of the SLMM that broke the ice. Neither was it the big-power presence of Furuhovde that clinched the Tiger approval as suggested by some reports that appeared in Colombo.

Pedersen has been meeting with the LTTE weekly, mainly with Kaushalyan in an effort to get the meetings going again. Even when the LTTE closed offices in Batticaloa and skipped town, the SLMM sought the top rankers out and kept the dialogue going.

When the STF and the LTTE met for the first time in eight months in Amparai on August 12, monitors told The Sunday Leader that they might be able to use that meeting as a springboard to turn the tide up north in Batticaloa. At that time however they were not overtly optimistic.

Kaushalyan had informed the SLMM in August after the Amparai meeting that he was awaiting approval from the Wanni command to restart the meetings. Then he promised it might be October. The LTTE, according to sources who dealt with both the monitors and the Tigers has reacted to pressure brought on them by the diplomatic community to relent the tough stand. As usual, the Tigers have launched a multi-pronged campaign - while agreeing to recommence meetings with the army, it last week initiated yet another effort through the TNA to intensify support for the ISGA.

Kaushalyan will lead the LTTE at the talks and is expected to play an increasingly visible role in the east. Ramesh had made it clear at last week's meeting that the Tigers wanted to give more importance to the political wing. "Kaushalyan is a very high ranking member," he told the monitors.

Ramesh and Kaushalyan were airlifted to Kilinochchi on Friday by the air force. They were expected to consult the LTTE top leadership regarding Tuesday's meeting with the army.

Miracle

In fact not so long ago Kaushalyan had appeared helpless in the face of accusations of child recruitment and abductions blamed on the LTTE and the political wing's seeming inability to rein in the military cadres.

A lot will depend on Tuesday's meeting-there is a lot of water to be crossed and there are no guarantees that it would not end in a flop. Given the body count in Batticaloa since Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan's, split to Colombo and beyond, the army and the LTTE coming face to face with words to throw at each other is no small miracle.

Two week's ago it was a very real option that words would have been replaced by bullets.

Sequence of events as per report 

Last week Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sadagiri denied that there was an attempt made by the LTTE to ram a Navy Fast Attack Craft with a dingy padded with explosives while naval crafts were pursuing a suspected trawler smuggling arms on August 16.

Details of the possible attack were reported in The Sunday Leader of August 22. Below is the sequence of events as per the official report.

8.50 - Two Naval Fast Attack Craft monitor a wooden trawler, 30 feet in length, white hull with horizontal stripes, radar equipment on roof, off Chalai, north of Mullaitivu

9.00 - Request by the navy for SLMM monitors

9.45 - Fast Attack Carft P-472 departs Trincomalee with two monitors

10.35 - Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle circles the trawler and films. Three Fast Attack Crafts now at the scene. Eight boxes on board the trawler unloaded using a rope connected to the shore, two dinghies operating around the trawler, actvity on the shore as well as on board the trawler.

11.30 - P-472 with the monitors on board arrives at the scene

12.00 - Navy reports SLMM's reluctance to board the vessel. Trawler starts to move southwards towards Mullaitivu. The direction that P-472 approached. P-472 approaches the trawler and takes photographs

5.05 - One green dinghy alongside the trawler another nearby.

12.20- P-472 gets closer to the wooden trawler. SLMM monitors on shore trying to reach location of initial unloading

12.35 - Dinghy that was alongside the trawler starts a run up southwards as the trawler turns northward again. The dinghy is piloted by a single man dressed in black. The dinghy is heading straight at P-472, sailors on board ordered to take up positions. Decision made to withdraw P-472.

12.45 - Dinghy turns around and rejoins the other dinghy and provides cover for the trawler

12.55- Two more gun boats depart Trincomalee

13.20 - The trawler once again sails towards the shore now with both dingies alongside.

13.25 - Trawler now at approximately three nautical miles north of Chalai. Turns around again and comes to a stop soon afterwards close to the shore.

15.00 - Trawler is static, activity on board.

16.50 - Trawler anchored, crew and dinghy taken to beach later in the evening, navy left two attack craft in the vicinity of the trawler including P-472. P-472 returned to Trincomalee later on August 17. Activity was seen on and around the trawler on the 17th as well.

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